Whether shopping for a last-minute holiday or birthday gift for the kids or looking for a local storytime, the neighborhood independent bookstore is a great bet for NYC families.
Only a small number of dedicated children's bookshops exist in NYC—Books of Wonder and Bank Street Bookstore, we're looking at you!—but there are a number of indie stores with impressive children's book sections. These unique lit havens often host children's activities, including read-alongs but also author events, writing workshops and other interactive happenings for burgeoning bookworms.
My kids have a particular weakness for books, possibly because it's the one thing I never deny them—as evidenced by the overflowing bookshelves at home. We love discovering new local shops and spending a lazy afternoon or cold or rainy one getting lost in the stacks, so I'm happy to share with you our 11 best bets for indie bookstores. What are you waiting for? Get reading!
Astoria Bookshop – Astoria
31-29 31st Street
This local Queens shop hosts a popular with the tot-crowd storytime on Thursday mornings. Special storytime events are also often held on the weekend and there's a popular Young Writers Workshop for the slightly older crowd (ages 8+) on Sundays.
Bank Street Bookstore – Upper West Side
2780 Broadway at 107th Street
After decades in its original 112th Street and Broadway location, kid-lit haven Bank Street Bookstore moved five blocks south to a cozier (and less expensive!) spot. Formerly two stories, the shop is now just one floor. However, there is still plenty of space for families to sit and read together, a top-notch selection of children's books and a jam-packed lineup of FREE special events like author readings and puppet shows.
BookCourt – Cobble Hill
163 Court Street
A neighborhood mainstay for more than 30 years, BookCourt opened in Cobble Hill in 1981 and is still owned and run by the original owners who have seen their blueprint expand on three occasions. The most recent expansion, in 2008, allowed for 2,000 more square feet of space and expanded event offerings. Chief among those are a Middle Reader Book Club held monthly for children ages 8 to 12 and semi-regular picture book author readings.
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Children and their caregivers enjoy one of many cozy reading nooks at Book Culture on Columbus. Photo by Sonia Gonzalez.
Book Culture – Morningside Heights and Upper West Side
2915 Broadway at 114th Street
450 Columbus between 81st and 82nd Streets
The Broadway location of this neighborhood bookshop has a lovely children's room located on the lower level. In addition to a wide variety of books and educational toys, the section features a kid-size table and chairs, a wooden tea set, a dollhouse and other communal playthings, which encourage families to linger. My kids and I have spent many rainy afternoons here. Book Culture also hosts lots of events for kids, including FREE storytimes in English, Persian and German at the Broadway location and its Columbus outpost (shown in above photo). Check the calendar for upcoming events.
Books of Wonder – Flatiron
18 West 18th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
NYC's largest and oldest children's bookstore sells new titles, beloved classics and even out-of-print tomes. But it's so much more than a bookstore; it's a place where kids become bookworms. Large exposed columns are surrounded with cushioned seats and throw pillows, inviting families to settle in for a good read. There's the shop's famous Oz section to peruse, an exhibition area with original kid-lit illustrations and frequent FREE events, including weekly storytimes on Saturdays at 11am and Sundays at 11:30am, and regular high-profile author readings. Check the online calendar for a complete list of upcoming events.
Boulevard Books & Café – Dyker Heights
7518 13th Avenue
Boulevard Books & Cafe was born of a local's wish to create a community gathering space in her home 'hood. The books are just icing on the cake. A well-appointed children's area is stocked with comfy pillows to lounge on during storytimes and the spot also hosts regular circle-time classes, as well as crafting workshops. Older kids can sign up for one of its bookclubs.
Greenlight Bookstore has a cozy and inviting children's section. Photo courtesy of the venue.
Greenlight Bookstore – Fort Greene
686 Fulton Street at South Portland Avenue
In addition its vast selection of books, including a nice children's section, Greenlight hosts many events for kids. There are FREE weekly storytimes for 3- to 8-year-olds on Saturdays at 11am. Best of all, they're hosted by local luminaries, children's authors and illustrators like David Ezra Stein and Selina Aiko, and kids' musicians and performers like Miss Nina and the Good Ms. Padgett. The store even hosts a Young Readers Book Group on the fourth Tuesday of every month where pizza is served and readers engage in a guided discussion about a pre-selected title (parents can even drop-off). Given the holiday season, both storytime and book club are on hiatus until the new year.
McNally Jackson Books – Soho
52 Prince Street between Lafayette and Mulberry Streets
This spacious two-story bookstore boasts a children's nook stocked with famous classics and lesser-known indie titles. The big attraction here are the FREE weekly kids' events, including a baby storytime on Fridays at 4pm, which goes on hiatus for the holidays, returning in January 2016, and Saturday storytime at 11:30am, which is really more of a lit-themed crafts hour hosted by local author and artist Yvonne Brooks. Plus there is a cafe full of kid-friendly snacks.
powerHouse on 8th – Park Slope
1111 Eighth Avenue between 11th and 12th Street
A cozier offshoot of the loft-like powerHouse Arena in Dumbo, this bookstore has an excellent children's book section and hosts all of the mini-chain's events for kids. Every Sunday morning at 11:30am, there's an activity-packed storytime, often starring local kid-lit authors reading their own work or Brooklyn musicians playing their own songs. The shop also hosts a monthly book club for tweens and young teens, moderated by kids’ book blogger Jordan B. Nielsen of TheRustyKey.com.
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Young kids enjoy storytime at P.S. Bookshop. Photo courtesy of the venue.
P.S. Bookshop – Dumbo
76 Front Street at Washington Street
This large bookstore sits in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and boasts that it devotes a sixth of its retail space to a children's lounge and reading area. Its website's ode to children is an entertaining read, but not as entertaining as the store itself. Its weekly storytime requires an RSVP and costs $5 per family. The space also plays host to a pair of music classes and, of course, shelves and shelves of children's books.
Strand – Union Square
828 Broadway at East 12th Street
Born in the 1920s, the Strand is a verifiable NYC institution selling "18 miles" of books, including an eclectic children's selection. It also buys and sells New Yorkers' gently used editions at discounted rates. Parents in-the-know check the Strand's event calendar regularly for its upcoming storytimes and "character" visits from beloved children's books, including Madeline, Clifford, Splat the Cat and, over the holidays, the Grinch.
Looking for used kids' books? Check out our list of where to buy second-hand children's books in NYC.
Top photo: Multiple cozy reading spots can be found at Book Culture on Columbus uptown. Photo by Sonia Gonzalez.
This post originally published in September 2012.